In August of 1999 I was a brilliant bride. I wore white, walked down the aisle of my childhood church, and pledged my life and love forever to my amazing husband, James. I was full of life and hope and excitement on that day and ready for whatever God had planned for us. I was young and inexperienced and a little timid about many things, but I was also good. I was good at almost anything I tried – not great, but good and honestly pretty confident that I could handle anything that came my way. My life had not been without challenge and I certainly wasn’t perfect, but life began to teach me at a young age that if you do what is right you will be rewarded for your good choices. It was kind of like my formula for life.
Because I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was 8 years old, I equated my life formula to my relationship with God. If I obey Him and do what is right, then He will love me and bless my life. For the most part this seemed to work out well. I studied hard at school. I practiced hard in sports. I wasn’t in the party crowd. I was very active in my church both as a high school and college student. It’s just what I did because “it was the right thing to do” and so far I was rewarded for it.
All this time I grew in my relationship with Jesus and I thought I had come to know Him – He loved me and sacrificed all for me so I wanted to love Him back. After all He is good and desires to bless me with the desires of my heart.
My formula was working. Deciding to live a life in ministry just seemed right so James and I chose a path that led us through seminary (him not me) and finally into our passion of Christian camping ministry. It certainly wasn’t easy – finances were (and still are… surprise, surprise!) a never-ending issue. There were times when between my full time job, his part time job, and his full load of classes that we would go weeks without ever having more than a few hours off together at the same time. And then when we got into camping ministry – our ultimate goal – the pace seemed to pick up even more!
I’m sure many reading this can relate. But God had blessed us tremendously so we wanted to do all we could to make Him proud.
We were very young when we got married, so we decided that it was best to wait to start a family. To be honest, in those early years I wasn’t even sure I ever wanted to be a mother. We made a plan to take precautions for the first 5 years of our marriage to give us time to “figure it all out” and wait until we were ready. I was a little terrified that I would be that girl who got pregnant on their honeymoon, but things went according to plan and we made it through those first 5 years. I really thought I would develop a deep yearning to have a child after 5 years.
When my husband and I talked about it, neither of us really had a super strong desire to start a family. On the other hand, we couldn’t imagine not having a family so we were kind of undecided as to what to do. We believed that if God had it in His plan for us to be parents then He would make it happen. So we left it up to Him. We stopped intentionally avoiding pregnancy and continued through our busy lives with a peace and contentment that whatever God did would be best. My naive little heart knew that resting in God’s hands was the greatest place to be anyway. (Oh how I miss that feeling – that carefree “it’s all gonna work out” gooey smile on my face feeling.)
From the moment he made me feel so special by his proposal of marriage, I had been thinking about the perfect way to share with James that I was carrying his child. And with so much time to dream through it, I had a great reveal plan in mind. It would have been storybook perfect for sure! But it didn’t exactly go my way (shocking, I know). I had taken a pregnancy test when I was a week late and it was negative. I was a little bummed because I thought that maybe, just maybe, this was God saying it was time – but the test said no. Then I began having sinus pressure so I assumed my body was just responding to some sort of sickness. The next morning I passed out – cold, flat out. Let’s just say that when James heard me fall and then found me lying unresponsive on the bathroom floor, I earned a doctor’s visit.
So there I was with a worried husband in the doctor’s office expecting to get an antibiotic for a sinus infection, but instead she said, “You’re pregnant.” I couldn’t believe it. I still feel guilty that the first thoughts I had for my baby were of doubt. But at the same time, there was such a hope and overwhelming feeling of fulfilled promise. We were absolutely elated that finally on March 17, 2010, after more than 10 years of being married and over 5 years of “letting God work” we had a new little life bursting into our world. I felt as though God was saying “I give you this blessing because you have earned it.” That was a great feeling. I so wish it was born of truth.
Now there was a new fear that I dealt with. This huge responsibility of carrying a new life was at the forefront of every thought I had and every decision I made. Everything I ate or drank, every step I took; it all mattered so much more now. I ended up in the emergency room 4 days after I found out that I was going to be a mother. My little sinus infection had grown horns and decided to rule the cavities of my head and I was sure my skull was going to burst before the night was over. All I could think was, “I just don’t want to do anything wrong for my baby.” God had blessed me with this precious miracle and I didn’t want to screw it up. The doctor assured me that the medication was okay for the baby but the tears streaming down my face would not stop as I prayed silently and continuously that he was right.
Eventually I began to feel better and my worry subsided a bit. I decided that since I didn’t get to use my reveal plan for James then I would have to tap into those unused creative skills to share our life changing news with family. Since it had been so long in the making we wanted to tell them in person. We were traveling to see my family on Easter and his family a couple of weeks later so I developed a plan for each visit and our excitement grew as we thought about the joy that was sure to come. Easter Day was wonderful. I got to witness a sparkle in my Dad’s eye that only shines for his grandchildren. My Mom was very proud as she determined that a Valentine’s Day romance had brought this baby to us just as their Valentine’s Day romance brought me to them 30 years ago. Our extended family joined in on the celebration and everyone couldn’t wait to meet this little person. Finally, I had my storybook day and all was perfect in my world.
The next day was my first appointment with my OB. April 5th will always be the day I saw the beating of my child’s heart on the ultrasound monitor. I can’t help but smile when I remember that first glance. It was so fast as it pulsed brightly on the screen – beautiful and awe-inspiring like a twinkling star. My doctor said those 3 words that I didn’t even know I was hoping for but brought such relief and joy – “Everything looks normal”.
We proudly carried the little picture they gave us of our special treasure out of the office and couldn’t wait until the next appointment to see how much it grew and changed over the coming month. I knew I couldn’t feel the baby yet, but it was like there was a buzzing inside of me of all the life that was to come. I was going to be a mother! God truly had it in His design for me to have a child and I was so very happy. I no longer held any doubt that this was exactly what I wanted and that in and of itself was a gift. I became absolutely certain I was divinely purposed to have a child and to love and care for them for the rest of my life. His good, perfect, and pleasing plan was being revealed to me. I felt His love in a new and fresh dimension and I liked it.
We decided not to tell many people our news until we were able to see James’ family. We had a big camping trip planned with some of our best friends that next weekend. It had been on the calendar for months and throughout the drive to the lake we tried to decide if we should tell them that we were finally joining the club of parenthood. Because it was just so exciting and we rarely got to see these special friends, we decided that we should tell them. The first night, there was never a time when everyone was together, so we put it off until the next day.
In the morning we took a little side trip to my nephew’s birthday party at a nearby park. I began to feel a little bit strange; nothing majorly wrong, but just kind of bloated feeling and an uneasiness began to set in. I shared my concern with some of my family at the party and they all assured me that this was totally normal. I’ll never forget the flippant comment that was made with the intent to make me feel better, but that haunts me to this very day. “Candy, there’s no need to freak out. Crackheads have babies every day.” This, of course, was meant to be comforting. If crackheads could have babies, then I should be fine since I was healthy and trying to do everything right.
While at the park I took a little walk to just pray and give my worries to the Lord. There was a huge fallen tree near the path as I passed by. I remember feeling sad that on such a gorgeous day the park was marred by the caution tape surrounding the broken limbs and uprooted base of what certainly used to be a beautiful tree. I had no idea that the tree would later become a symbol of my life.
On the ride back to the lake James assured me that everything was fine. I decided to take it easy the rest of the day and put my feet up and let this uneasiness pass. Later that day I noticed a faint pink tinge when I went to the restroom. I had read several accounts of spotting while pregnant being perfectly normal. I still found myself holding my breath and willing it to be bad lighting in the ruggedness of the old state park building. I began to find myself in constant prayer, or rather, a constant pleading with God. Throughout the remainder of the afternoon and evening I continually begged silently, “Lord, please let it be okay. Please, let everything be alright.”
Though I talked with my friends and hung out in the beauty of the sunshine that day, I was screaming on the inside over and over and over. James could tell that I seemed unsettled so we prayed and he assured me that no matter what, it would be okay. I determined to go to bed early that night and as I zipped into my sleeping bag the first of many tears began to fall. I cried myself to sleep as I begged with God to take away this unsettled feeling and to let my baby be okay. I recall my whispered prayer, “Lord, please make it all be normal in the morning.”
In the early morning hours of Sunday, April 11, I awoke with strong pains that were unmistakable and absolutely horrifying. My greatest fear became my new earth-shattering reality. God had not answered my desperate prayers. I could feel the wetness of blood soaking through my pants and I knew there was nothing I could do to make it stop.
Though I knew exactly what was happening, I frantically wished that I was dreaming and could wake up from this nightmare. I made my way to the restroom holding my breath and stifling the cries that wanted to escape. The brutal reality of what was happening was undeniable as I felt my child slip out of my body. I do not have any words to describe the exact feeling of that moment but I will never forget it. I was utterly helpless and hopeless and an overwhelming sense of loss enveloped me. I froze in a silent scream for what seemed like hours. In these moments of agony, I realized that I wasn’t the one who got to tell James we were pregnant, but I would be the one to tell him that we were not anymore. A thousand images of all that being a father would have meant to him played through my mind. Terror hovered over me in that bathroom and I began to feel the sharp sting of shame. I lost his child.
Numbness and blur. Those were the feelings and thoughts that I remember from the hours that followed my miscarriage. I know that James held me and we cried together until morning. I know we headed home as soon as we could. I know we decided we should go by my parent’s house to tell them in person and watch their hearts break. I know each of these things happened, but I was not really there. I didn’t know it at the time, but “I” would never be the same again. The “me” that I was hours before would be a memory for the rest of my life.
“My baby is dead” echoed within me throughout the day as I tried to sleep. Nothing else mattered. The physical pain was bad but I remember wishing it would have been a hundred times stronger so that maybe I would pass out and never wake up. I let my baby die. God let my baby die. I was worse than a crackhead, because their babies live, but mine died. I believed all of these things, but what I didn’t know was how I was supposed to live with myself now.
Once I exhausted my strength from weeping and lack of food, I finally slept. Once I slept, I found that sleeping was the easiest thing I could now do. Waking up was the hard part. It seemed that every morning as I slipped back into consciousness, I abruptly felt the horror of my miscarriage and remembered that I was broken. I felt like at the very core of who I was, I was broken. I didn’t know what to do with these feelings and thoughts so I tried to continue living as I always had. I went to work, I came home, I went to sleep, and the next day I did it all over again. I thought it should be easy to get back into my routine because most of the people I saw each day never even knew I was pregnant. I didn’t have to talk about it and they didn’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing. Daily I plastered on my “facade of fine” and assumed that I must be pulling it off.
For those who did know, I began feeling very uncomfortable around them. Always at the forefront of my thoughts was, “They pity me. They know that I’m broken. I wonder what they think I’ve done wrong to have my baby die.” Through the fake smiles and plastic conversation, this was consistently echoing in my mind. No one ever really knew what to say to me so things always seemed to me to be awkward and forced. It’s like they knew I was sad on the inside and they wanted to cheer me up, but it seemed so wrong of me to accept joy of any kind, so I pretty much rejected it. I didn’t think I could ever truly be happy again, after all, what kind of mother who lets her child die can ever feel right about smiling? Any kind of encouragement that was offered I tried to get through as quickly as possible so I could brush it off.
I dreaded going to church and attempting to worship God. When we did attend, I almost always felt humiliation by the inevitable tears, along with the throbbing pain that caused them. I got so sick of hearing scriptures about God’s plan and that “He works all things together for good.” I believed His ways were greater than mine from the time I was a child, but now that idea felt so abrasive; it brought no comfort whatsoever and I continued to become angrier as my bitterness layered itself on top of me. For the first time in my life I questioned God’s goodness. This was so foreign and made me feel hard and dark and guilty. Even while questioning Him, I knew that He was my only hope. I had to believe that my child was with Him in order to make it through the day, so I lived in a constant struggle of competing thoughts and emotions. In the midst of this turmoil, I found a verse that became very important to me.
“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you…” - Psalm 143:8
My body had long since stopped hemorrhaging from such a forceful blow, but my heart had not. Facing each day continued to be one of the hardest things for me so I tried to use this passage as a reminder to ask for strength from God, but more than anything I contemplated the unfailing part. I knew in my mind that God is love, but I didn’t feel loved at all. I had trusted Him with my life, but felt like He had failed me. Part of me wanted to just chant this verse over and over in an attempt to replace my doubts with the truth of God’s love, but the other part of me just wouldn’t allow it. It was like there was an ongoing battle of my feelings that changed what I believed to be true on a minute-by-minute basis. And it made me feel like I was crazy because I couldn’t even really figure out for myself what I thought or felt or believed. I knew this wasn’t healthy, but I had no idea what I could do to make any of it better. God made me mad so I didn’t want to talk to Him. I felt so ashamed of who I was already that I didn’t want to share all this with James. Talking to anyone else would require way too much explanation, so I forced myself to be “fine”.
Over the course of the next several months it became exhausting to try to continually force smiles and laughter. My mind was racing with thoughts of who the heck am I, because I’m definitely not the person I thought I was. I used to feel like I was strong. I used to think I really trusted God and that He blessed those who love Him. But that was the old me. The new me was only strong enough to breathe in and breathe out. The new me now couldn’t even fathom the idea of trusting a God who didn’t answer my prayer. The new me saw no good He could possibly be working from this. The new me was angry with God for allowing my baby to die.
I continued to hide the tears from everyone else as much as I possibly could. I saved them for when I was alone. Even the sleep that was my sole retreat just a few months before was out of my grasp. One night I found myself sitting outside in the middle of the night staring at the moon and watching the twinkling of the stars as tears streamed down my cheeks. For the first time in a really long time I prayed for God to show me He was still there and that He had a plan for this horrendous mistake He had allowed to happen. I so desperately needed Him to reach down and grab me out of the pit I felt mired in. And on that night under a clear sky full of stars, I received nothing. No miraculous sign, no audible voice from above, and no assurance that my pain would end soon. No small whisper that He had even heard me. It was as though He had left me and I was completely on my own.
The new year started with my husband saying, “I cannot let you live this way”. “I WILL NOT let you live this way!” James felt our marriage was in trouble and that was a fresh blow to my pride. I tried to do all the things that a good wife does and here I was failing again. I already knew I wasn’t a good mother and now I learned I wasn’t a good wife either. He didn’t use those words, but that’s what I heard. At first I reacted with anger, but never considered that he was still grieving the loss of our child and grieving for me, too.
Once I let my heart see the love he was speaking from, I realized that he was right and I had been pushing him away along with everyone else. And I was not okay with letting that continue. I might not have loved myself or much of anything else anymore, but I did love my husband. But I really had no idea as to what to do about it. I had tried to make myself “better” on my own but that obviously didn’t work, so I challenged him with what I could do about it. And then the dreaded “Counseling” topic came up.
The last thing I wanted to do was sit and talk and cry in front of a stranger about the most personal and tragic moment of my life only to have them deem me crazy… I already had that figured out anyway. But eventually James took the initiative and scheduled an appointment for us. I wouldn’t exactly describe myself as being thrilled about this venture. I pretty much cried the whole drive to our first session. I was afraid that my weakness and shame were going to be brought to the surface and I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I was afraid that if I was really honest about all my feelings that James would be even more disappointed in me. But none of those things happened. I wasn’t “healed” from my depression in that first session, but all the thoughts that seemed so huge bottled up in my head weren’t nearly as scary or awful sounding once I put them into words.
Over a period of several weeks, James and I truly began to see a difference in our relationship with one another. I found the freedom to admit my anger and bitterness toward God. I wish I could say that this flipped a switch and I suddenly understood everything, but that didn’t happen either. Even though I knew I was the one who had been pushing Him away, I still didn’t understand why He would choose to cause me this pain.
Over time, I began to envision the possibility of someday feeling happy again. When I took a pregnancy test on June 19, 2011 (Father’s Day) and it came back positive, I thought God had truly displayed grace and given us a second chance. I was so happy to be able to tell James he was going to be a Dad and see the surprised expression on his face. There was no big reveal extravaganza, but it was our moment and it was good.
The coming weeks were a drawn out period of what I can only describe as terrified excitement. Every moment of every day I was on guard for the slightest inkling that something was going wrong with the pregnancy. At the same time I became more excited every morning that I was still pregnant and the dreams of seeing my husband with his precious child in his arms began to play themselves out in my mind once again. We decided, mostly from my urging, that we would not tell anyone about the baby until we were much further along. I even wanted to get past the 8 weeks mark before scheduling an OB appointment. I refused to allow myself to feel overly excited or expectant in case I lost this one, too. With the ever-present thought that I wanted this baby to be growing and healthy, my conversations with God really picked up. I began with, “I’m sorry.” Then I said, “Thank you” and quickly moved on to, “Help!” I knew that I could not do anything to make my body maintain this pregnancy, but I still believed that the Lord could. So I asked Him for that over and over again. I always knew the Bible said, “pray without ceasing”, but I thought that was impossible. I can testify I did exactly that throughout the summer of 2011.
On August 1 we waited in the doctor’s office for our first glimpse of our baby on the ultrasound. We were 11 weeks into the pregnancy (3 weeks longer than we’d made it the first time). I remember watching another couple come out beaming with pride and joy as they showed off the printed picture of their baby to what seemed like their entire extended family in the waiting room. As I watched them hug and laugh and get all teary-eyed at the blurry black and white image I thought about what it would be like to share our new photo with our friends and family. Once we got the picture of our baby and knew everything was ok, we could tell the whole world. Then James would finally be the proud father he wanted to be.
But we never got a picture. We got a spinning room. The doctor uttered three words that haunt me to this day. “There’s no heartbeat.” Time stood still and yet the room began to spin out of control simultaneously. I don’t remember much else except James holding me and the deafening silence of my own breathless weeping. The family gathering we got was at the surgery clinic where the D & C was scheduled 2 days later. Once again our precious child was ripped away from us and we would never feel how soft their skin would be or know how intoxicating their scent was. We wouldn’t hear their high-pitched baby laughter or taste their sticky kisses on our lips. No first steps would ever be caught on video. The beautiful dream of knowing our child and experiencing life through their sparkling eyes just evaporated into thin air. Again.
After our first miscarriage, I remember telling James that there was no way I would be able to live through the loss of another child, but I found myself at a much different place than I ever would have imagined. I grieved tremendously and still often questioned God’s plan. Yet somehow sprinkled amidst all of the horror of another loss, there was an inkling of purpose. And the possibility that there was a purpose in it began to construct a bridge in my heart to acceptance. With the slight chance for acceptance on the distant (very distant) horizon, I continued to face each day. I knew I couldn’t survive the solitary struggle I had experienced trying to grieve alone the year before. We decided to continue counseling for another year and learned how to make our own unique batch of “tear soup”. I learned that grieving is not about “getting over it” but about determining how to take another step in the life that we are still given.
We met with my OB and discussed what two pregnancy losses meant medically. Testing brought some answers and we began to follow a more regimented program of trying. After long months of this constant striving to do everything right, I realized I have real limitations. It was a relief, but it also made me angry. As an achiever, I wanted to accomplish my goals and was used to being able to do whatever I had set my mind to. But this proved to be completely out of my control. The truth was, I couldn’t do anything I set my mind to and the acceptance of that fact surprisingly brought me closer to finding peace. During this time I had visit from my mother. She is a wonderful and Godly woman, but typically our conversation didn’t include supernatural stuff. That was about to change.
My mom shared with me something that I had prayed for but thought I would never, ever receive. I have never been able to remember my dreams. Throughout the countless nights that I laid in bed and soaking my pillow while crying myself to sleep, I secretly asked God to let me see my babies in my dreams. That day, my mom shared with me a dream God gave her. She told me she had seen two little girls in a meadow of yellow flowers laughing and telling Jesus how beautiful He was. And she said, “Candy, these are your daughters. You have two little girls and they are happy in Heaven with Jesus. The oldest has long, blonde hair and the younger one has short, curly brown hair.”
I was dumbfounded. I honestly did not know how to respond at first, but with tears streaming down my face I began to picture them. They were beautiful. And they were happy. And they were with Jesus. Now there is not a morning that I wake up when I don’t see them. My mother has given me many great things throughout my life, but her obedience to share this picture of my daughters with me is by far the most treasured.
After sharing my mom’s dream with James, and more crying with him, we decided that our girls needed names. That was one of the things that seemed so undone. We loved them the instant we knew they had been created, but they had slipped away before their identity was truly made known to us. Now we were given a beautiful gift; the ability to name our children. We had always liked the name Anna for a girl. James’ Grammy was very special to him and her middle name was Ann so we thought it would also be a variation of a namesake for her. I also liked the name Grace and always thought Anna Grace would go well together. Since we were naming them both at the same time, we chose to give our oldest daughter the name Anna and our youngest daughter the name Grace. Now we are the proud parents of Anna and Grace who are dancing in Heaven and we love them both so very much.
A few weeks later I decided to research the meanings of Anna and Grace. It turns out that they both mean the same thing: the Lord’s favor. I cried. I got a tattoo in honor of my girls. Two little brown footprints nestled together, each attached to a blonde butterfly wing. It’s my silent statement that Anna and Grace have made their precious mark on my heart and impacted my life in extraordinary ways even though they flew away so quickly. Their symbols are on my foot to remind me that in every step of life they are with me and forever will be.
So now what? I often ask myself this question and find that it enters my prayers almost just as readily. I long to live in my eternal hope that I will be with my children forever, but I am forced to live as a childless mother. I don’t know what to do with that. I also don’t know what to do with the alterations I’ve undergone in my heart and mind.
I recently came across a verse in the Bible that I know I have read at least 33 times before, but never really noticed. In John 16:12 Jesus says, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” Knowing that God still has much more to say blesses me with a light of hope in this world that I thought was extinguished forever. I don’t know what tomorrow or next month or five years from now will bring. Will I ever become pregnant again? If I do, will my body allow the baby to develop? Since we desire a family, is adoption the right choice? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions that continue to run through my mind, but I cling to the knowledge that I do know. Whatever is coming, I am better equipped to bear it because I have struggled through what God has given me. And I am still walking with Him.
A few months ago I visited the same park that we went to for my nephew’s birthday party back in April 2010. It was a nice day for a jog so I laced up my running shoes and set out on the little path. As I rounded one of the corners at the edge of the park, my eye caught a glimpse of a group of children playing on one of the playground structures. They were having such a great time and their laughter fluttered through the breeze like bubbly, happy music. I felt so blessed by that moment that I smiled and turned my head to watch for a minute.
It was then that I realized they weren’t actually on the playground but instead they were climbing and clambering all over the trunk of a huge fallen tree. The limbs and branches were trimmed away and bracing and supports added for safety, but it was definitely a fallen tree. As I took it all in, I noticed that a gifted sculptor had carved several of the larger limbs into cute little woodsy critters. Not only was it a spectacular adventure for these children, but also an incredible work of art.
Then it hit me; this was the same tree that I thought was such a tragedy and eyesore five years ago. We both faced a life-changing disaster at the same time and here it was in its transformed state, with a beauty and purpose redeeming its brokenness. With a tearful chuckle I thought to myself, “
Maybe, just maybe, someday God will let me fully see this transformation in me.”